Exploring the Role of Physiotherapists in the Care of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Phys Occup Ther Pediatr. 2019;39(6):614-628. doi: 10.1080/01942638.2019.1585405. Epub 2019 Apr 8.


Aims: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are less likely to participate in physical activity than their age related peers, and it has been suggested that physiotherapists (PT) could potentially facilitate their participation. Currently, no research has examined PTs' potential role in enhancing physical activity (PA) participation. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine PTs experiences and perspectives of working with children with ASD, and to explore potential directions for PTs to potentially increase PA. Methods: Ten pediatric PTs in Canada were interviewed, and data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: Three themes were identified: the role of PT, perceived lack of expertise, confidence and training, and structural and systemic barriers. The accounts highlight the social and institutional complexity and constraints in PTs potential promotion of PA for children with ASD. Participants supported a primarily consultative role whereby PTs could educate and partner with parents, teachers, and community service providers to enhance gross motor development and individualize PA needs. Conclusions: These findings indicate how PTs might be involved in enhancing PA among children with ASD.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD); participation; physical activity; physiotherapy; qualitative research.

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / rehabilitation*
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Professional Role*
  • Qualitative Research